Half marathon race tips and etiquette
How to master the half marathon
Hands up if you're planning a half marathon? If so, check out these top tips and our look at some of the unwritten rules of racing over 13.1 miles.
Written by Louise Damen
Louise is a two-time England Cross Country Champion and a former European XC Trials winner. She has also represented GB at various international events and her marathon PB is 2:30:00.
Be start line savvy
You should aim to be at the start around 10 minutes before the scheduled start time, although you will need to allow longer for larger races. If it's a cold day then take an old T-shirt, jumper, or even a good old bin bag with you that you can wear to keep warm and then discard at the last minute.
Most race starts are seeded, with the faster runners positioned at the front of the field to ensure a safer and smoother start for all. Be realistic and honest with where you stand on the start line so that you don't impede the runners behind you. Don't try and push to the front if you're not going to be towards the front at the finish! If it's a mass start then try to avoid weaving in and out of other runners, as this just wastes precious energy. Try to settle into a good rhythm and relax!
Plan your pace
Good pace judgement is crucial in a half marathon and it’s something that doesn't happen spontaneously, so you will need a pacing strategy. Once you've set a time goal, you'll need to work backwards so that you can calculate your split times to ensure that you're on track during the race. However, remember that your plan should be flexible. You may need to adjust your time goal and pacing strategy to take into account the weather conditions.
Over 13.1 miles conserving glycogen in first half of the race is essential. The smartest runners are those who spread their effort over the duration of the race by running even or negative splits (where the second half of the race is run faster than the first). Try not to think that getting ahead of your desired splits early on is 'money in the bank.' It isn’t. In fact it generally results in early glycogen depletion and slower finishing times!
Smart and safe fuelling
Your body can only store enough carbohydrate for around 90 minutes of exercise, so if you're going to be running for over 90 minutes, you'll need to consider topping up your glycogen stores by eating and/or drinking on the run. You can do this with sports drinks but energy gels provide concentrated carbohydrate that is easily digestible on the go. Pop the gels in your pocket/drinks belt or pin them to your shorts and take one every 30 minutes.
Even in cold weather you'll need to have a hydration strategy in place. It is vital to take on fluid in the early stages of the race, even if you don’t feel as if you need it. Drinking little and often is the best strategy to ensure that you remain hydrated and prevent any gastro-intestinal issues. If there are drinks stations en route then avoid the urge to dive for the table to snatch a drink as you could easily cut other runners up, causing an accident.
If possible, try to position yourself on the appropriate side of the road to pick up a drink before you arrive at the table. Before you discard your cup or bottle make sure to check around you and throw it to the side of the course. Nobody wants a face full of sports drink or to roll their ankle on a discarded bottle!
Take the racing line but be mindful of fellow runners
All certified road race courses are measured using the shortest route available. This means that running down the middle of the road isn't necessarily the fastest route. Focus on taking the race line, particularly if the road bends. Running the tangents of a course is essentially free speed and could take several seconds off of your finish time. However, be sure to be mindful of other runners. Whilst you should aim to take the racing line, you should avoid yo-yoing from one side of the road to the other to do so, because this is a sure way to irritate and impede other runners around you.